Since marijuana legalization has begun to spread across Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Alaska and 23 states allow it for medical use, it’s become a burgeoning industry with endless potential.
But according to recent research, it also soaks up a boatload of energy. No matter what you think about marijuana legalization, there’s no disputing that it’s currently a highly inefficient industry.
A 2012 study estimated that the indoor cultivation of marijuana uses $6 billion worth of electricity every year, or an astonishing 1 percent of overall U.S. electricity. In states like California, that number is even higher at 3 percent. One indoor module, which handles just four plants, uses as much energy as 29 refrigerators.
“Given that this is a new ‘industry’ that is going to be pretty highly regulated, I felt like the state and local policymakers have a unique opportunity to incorporate energy usage and climate assessments into their state marijuana licensing fees,” Gina Warren, a professor at the Texas A&M University School of Law whose paper will soon appear in the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, said to The Washington Post.
The biggest energy sponge is the intensive lighting required to grow marijuana, followed by dehumidification, which keeps the pot from getting moldy, as well as drying and heating irrigation water. The process of growing cannabis was moved indoors to optimize and accelerate the industry as marijuana legalization ramps up. But outdoor growing also has its environmental downsides like deforestation as well as water and pesticide use.
“One average kilogram of final product is associated with 4,600 kg of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere, or that of 3 million average U.S. cars when aggregated across all national production,” Mills explained in The Washington Post.
But the good news is that since this industry is still in its infancy, taking steps toward energy efficiency are warranted and welcomed. Forbes called it LEED weed, but in all seriousness, companies that specialize in efficiency will increasingly follow the money and move into the arena, optimizing more efficient lighting and heating as well as ventilation. This could also mean more efficient grow bulbs and greenhouses for the slew of new producers making their way into the market or moving their agriculture inside.
“Now that this (industry) has come into the light, literally, we’re going to see an emergence of technologies and companies that want to meet this growing need,” Peter Kelly-Detwiler, a partner at Boston-based NorthBridge Energy Partners LLC said to Marijuana Business Daily. “And there’s a huge need to do that because it’s really wasteful. It’ll be interesting to see this thing evolve, and I expect change in a fairly short period of time.”
Much fine tuning still needs to be done, but city and statewide regulations may push for changes even faster. Boulder Country, for example, will soon require that all grow facilities offset electricity, propane, and natural gas use.
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Image of marijuana plants from Shuttershock